There were too many options for this weekend, as most of the harder peaks were back in shape. I'd really want to get Mount French done in this year, but on the other hand, I also wanted to fully take advantage of this larch season. Therefore, I threw out two possible objectives to fellow Edmonton peak bagger, Mike (Arcturus). Oyster Peak to Skoki Mountain, or Mount Daly to Niles. Mike chose the former. The stats are similar to another insane one day traverse I've done in August, Mount Northover to McHarg to Worthington, but with much better trail system.
We slept at Fish Creek parking lot, and set up alarm at 6AM, and started 44km-epic day at 6:30AM. I didn't carry anything fancy except for one jacket, food, and 1L water with a filter. You don't need to bring more than 1L water into Skoki as there're plenty of water sources. I felt really happy to travel light in Skoki, considering most people do these two peaks over 2-3 days. One word to describe the trudge up Temple Lodge road: boring, especially doing it with headlamp on. Good thing is, the road is only 4km long, versus the 11.7km road up Lake O'Hara.. We quickly made our way up, and 45min later, a truck came up behind and gave us a ride, which saved us 15min walk. I hope we could wake up half an hour later though... But on the other hand, you can't count on getting a ride.
Because everything was in shade, we didn't get distracted by the view, and we quickly made our way towards Hidden Lake and Boulder Pass. Note that the trail to Skoki's Hidden Lake is in much much better shape than the trail to Kananaskis's Hidden Lake... We soon made to the Hidden Lake campground. This is the turn-off for Richardson to Pika to Ptarmigan traverse. Looking back, Mount Temple looks great under morning light.
From here, the trail climbs gradually up towards Boulder Pass, and the view started to fully open up. More and more larches showed up and wow, it's gonna be a gorgeous day! All the sudden, we topped out on Boulder Pass. Looking down the other side, it sits Ptarmigan Lake. Apparently Mike has more photographing experience, and he suggested to circumvent the lake on its south (right) side, which turned out to be a good call. The path on this side is very faint and it was mostly boulder hopping and walking on boggy ground. However, the reflection of Ptarmigan Peak made up for the extra work. I highly suggest everybody doing this variation rather than following the trail.
We regained the trail and followed it slightly uphill towards Deception Pass, before branching off to Baker Lake trail. From here on, we had to lose 200-300m elevation to get to the base of Oyster Peak... Oh well, elevation loss and regain is the theme of this traverse, so make sure you get mentally prepared. We soon made to Baker Lake. The morning sun was bad for photographing the lake, so again, Mike made a good call for doing another variation. We dropped down to the lake shore on the other side of the campground, and circumvented the lake for a few hundred meters. Another wow moment!
Again, it's really to do this extra 20min. We followed the trail circumventing Fossil Mountain on its SE side, towards Cotton Grass Pass, the divide for Oyster Creek and Baker Creek. Note: It's near 15km one way to get to here from parking lot. There were more larches waiting for us! At the pass, we left the trail and bushwhacked up directly towards the face of Oyster Peak. I think it's probably the first time I enjoyed bushwhacking. It's quite a unique experience to bushwhack in larch forest! At treeline, we were treated by excellent view down to the valley. Fossil Mountain looks impressive from this side. Skoki Mountain was also visible, oh man, that's a long long way to go.
There were hands on sections here and there, and we quickly made to the south peak. The view was foreshortened and it took us longer than anticipated. There was even a register on this false summit... From here, we got a head-on view of the giant front range peaks: Mount Douglas and St. Bride. Douglas is a mostly a scramble with a couple of 5th class steps and tens of route-finding, while St. Bride is much more involved, if Rick Collier's 5.11 route is the easiest line.... The traverse to the true summit is much longer than it appears. And at places, the ridge gets pretty exposed. It took me more than half an hour to traverse... Near the summit, the scrambling gets more involved. The ridge is definitely a moderate scramble.
We didn't linger long on the summit as we still had a long way to go. The west face descent was much harder than anticipated. The upper mountain is guarded by slabs and we encountered difficult scrambling here and there. After the series of slabs, we had to descend tedious rubble. Once getting down, looking back, the route looked to be pretty serious... Good thing, no need to do it again!
We bushwhacked down to Oyster Creek, where we re-filled our water bottles. The direction to Skoki Mountain was a bit confusing. We failed to reach the correct Jones Pass trail, and ended up too far down towards Red Deer Lakes. We had to do more bushwhacking to regain the proper trail.